The only abundant resource

The world is on fire, or at least our waste is. China has been the preferred dumping site for all our waste for the past decades. More than half of the global ‘waste production’, apart from the Chinese waste itself, was processed in that country until recently. They recycled or burned it. But the Chinese people, who couldn’t see the end of the street in Beijing on certain days because of the serious smog, have had enough. Unsorted waste being shipped in by boatloads at a time, is no longer welcome. New laws determine which waste can and cannot be imported. High-quality waste, the kind that they can use, is welcome but the rest is ours to keep.

It’s hard to ascertain if the fires in Poland are a direct result of the import ban, but the fact remains that last year alone, 700 million kilos of unsorted waste got piled up on hundreds of landfills. The Polish recycling industry hardly has the capacity to handle such a quantity. So burn it. Last weekend, huge mountains of waste were ablaze. Over 65 of these landfills have already gone up in smoke in recent years. An ecological disaster for a country known for its vast unspoilt nature.

We live in a world that has been burning or burying everything for over 200 years. Oil, gas, coal, nuclear waste, but also all the other raw materials that we use. We also know that slowly but surely, scarcity is becoming a fact of life. We know we have to move to a circular economy that ensures that everything we use can be used again in production processes. It just needs to move much faster, time is wasting away.

But experts have said we can solve this problem. First, we must ensure that we start with higher-quality plastics and raw materials for the production of our consumer goods. That will create a better starting point for recycling. Secondly, we must invest in bigger and better recycling plants. Because if beautiful new raw materials are made, the demand for them will increase.

Eventually, we will live in a world in which we can endlessly re-use the raw materials for our consumer products. Because if we are to live with 10 billion people on a planet that has been picked dry, isn’t that a logical and attractive solution?

This post is also available in: Dutch

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